The original Watermelon Kingdom was started in 1948 as a simple road side melon stand by Homer and Gladys Royse. Homer Royse was a young man who had come from Kansas to North Dakota as part of a custom combining crew. In North Dakota he not only enjoyed the work and the culture, but he admired the honesty, the friendliness, and the work ethics of its people. More importantly he met Gladys Lydia Hepper, a young school teacher from Selfridge, ND. Soon the two married and Gladys joined Homer in starting and operating his own small custom combining business.
After one such season of combining Homer and Gladys were south bound for the fall and happened to stop in central South Dakota for gas and lunch. Adjacent to the gas station was a field full of South Dakota watermelons. Homer inquired, “How much for a melon?” To which the gas station owner said “Oh, you don’t want a melon from that field. It froze last night and those are no good. You can have the whole field for $200.”
Most long time residents of the Bismarck Mandan area remember the current Royse’s Twin City Produce by its original name of Royse’s Watermelon Kingdom. The original name said it all to its customers, watermelons, watermelons, and more watermelons, and little else. It was only later in the mid 70′s that the business had expanded to much more than just melons that the name change became necessary.
But Homer was a Kansas born and Kansas raised boy. He knew a good melon from a frosted melon, and he especially knew opportunity when it was presented to him. In his view the melons of that field were not frozen and certainly worth more than the $200 asking price.
He took that gas station attendant up on his word, bought the entire field of ‘frozen’ melons and loaded up his farm truck and pull behind trailer house to the limits of each, so much so that Gladys recalls that both vehicles were ‘dragging on the ground’ and turned around back to North Dakota. With that first load of melons, Homer and Gladys discovered their ‘eureka’ moment.
They discovered that the folks of Bismarck and Mandan, and all of the surrounding area liked good fresh watermelon. The melons that Homer and Gladys bought from that gas station attendant became the first of many loads of melons that they would subsequently, over the next 50 years, bring to the Bismarck and Mandan area for sale at their road side stand.
Road Side Advertising:
In those early years, Homer and Gladys would bring in the melons by the semi load— often times 20 or more loads each summer. At that time Homer believed that the product had to be seen to be sold. He would unload the melons in large piles all over the front yard and up and down in the highway ditches between Bismarck and Mandan so the customer could have his choice of any one or more of several thousand melons at any given time.
Melons and More:
As the years went by, the business grew. The road side stand became a permanent building, and later that permanent building became a starting point for a large store expansion (completed in 2002) which today houses the business. The ‘sales staff’ went from simply the family members (sons Al, Ken, Byron, Roger and daughter Delores all had their work shifts and time in the store) to a staff of over 30 workers each season. More importantly, as time went on, Homer and Gladys realized that the folks of the area not only enjoyed good fresh watermelon; they enjoyed good and fresh fruit and vegetables of many varieties. Soon Royse Watermelon Kingdom was becoming well known for not only their Texas and Oregon watermelons, but for the cantaloupes and muskmelons from Colorado; peaches, pears, plums, cherries from Washington; oranges and grapefruit from Florida; tomatoes and corn from Arkansas; muskmelons, pumpkins and squash from South Dakota, and a wide variety of other fruits and vegetables from many other parts of the United States. To supply all these fruits and vegetables Homer and Gladys operated their own small fleet of trucks and dedicated drivers.
In the mid 90′s Homer and Gladys retired from the retail produce business; at that point they had successfully run a popular and successful business for nearly 60 years. Daughter Delores became the owner and operator of the business and changed the name of the business to Royse’s Twin City Produce to more accurately portray the wide selection of fruits and vegetables offered. Regardless however of the name change, Delores has maintained the small business friendly atmosphere and high quality of product offered to the customers.
The Business Today:
The business that Homer and Gladys started with a $200 investment in a ‘frozen’ field of water melons from a field in South Dakota has survived over 60 years. The business has become a local landmark and institution for the folks of the Bismarck-Mandan and surrounding area, with many of the customers remembering shopping at the store with their parents when they themselves were youngsters. Today the business is owned and operated by Homer and Gladys’s daughter Delores (Royse) Castle and the tradition of fresh fruit, from all parts of the United States, brought to the folks of the area continues.